When it comes to the elite writer/directors, there is a level of style and flavor that all the greats have about their film(s). Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese, The Coen Brothers, Guy Ritchie, Greta Gerwig, Wes Anderson, Chloe Zhao, Taika Watiti, Ridley Scott… each of these directors’ films feel completely different than the others on the list. Why is that?
In this article I want to talk about style, also commonly referred to as voice, or brand, and hopefully get you to consider what your brand as a writer is; and identify what makes it unique different – and ultimately able to fill a void that Hollywood needs.
To start, I think it’s important to point out that “voice” is not something I believe can be taught. You can’t read a book, or 1000 scripts, or listen to podcasts or watch hundreds of movies to discover your voice – I think that is more of an innate talent, than a learned skill. That said, I do think you find your voice along the way, by doing all those things I listed above: reading, studying, learning and WRITING your ass off. Always.
In other words, finding your brand as a writer is something that takes practice, which makes it appear to be the same as a skill – but again, I would argue it’s something that can’t be taught, it can only be nurtured.
I believe an easy way to discover what your voice is, is to consider what movies you love to watch. Do you lean towards rom com’s, action, thriller, horror, fantasy, court-room drama’s, etc… whatever genre/tone it is that you gravitate towards – that’s a good place to start looking for what you might be good at. Of course, developing a brand as a writer doesn’t necessarily mean you should only write scripts in one genre, with one kind of tone – but I do think it’s important to be known in the industry as the guy that does “X” really well.
I have come to understand that most screenwriters, actors, directors, and otherwise, for the first 5 years of their career only ever get jobs, or potentially hired for jobs, that are in the same genre as the first thing they sold/made. That’s just how it works. And it’s important to be mindful of that.
But more than that, having a voice and a brand isn’t just about genre and tone. It’s the color, the seasoning and spice that makes your script unique to only you. This can be as simple as things like: long monologues in all of your scripts (Mike Flanagan), heavy gore in action sequences (Tarantino), fascinating layered female characters (Greta Gerwig), powerfully delicious set design and composition (Wes Anderson). The list goes on.
But on the page, it can be as small as things like: BOLDING your slug lines. Trimming your scene descriptions to just a few, concise, evocative words. Keeping your dialogue short and snappy (Aaron Sorkin). Giving each of your main characters BIG introductions (Coen Brothers).
Maybe you haven’t found your voice yet, and/or can’t quite identify what it is that makes your scripts entirely unique to you. But I would encourage you to take time and think about it, and never stop searching for it. Not only is it the X-factor that agents and managers are looking for to sign new writers, but it’s the thing that will take you from being a good writer, to a great writer, that Hollywood and your fans will love and remember forever.
Curious what other examples you have of writer/directors that have a specific voice? Comment below!